Elections Won’t Fix What Ails the West

Yves here. Why are so many in the Anglosphere and Europe convinced we live in a well-functioning and fair system as evidence otherwise mounts? Thomas Ferguson described how the US, and increasingly much of the West, has a political system driven by moneyed interests, not votes. Yet the public and press still romanticize elections.

By Rob Urie, author of Zen Economics, artist, and musician who publishes The Journal of Belligerent Pontification on Substack

With apologies for stating the obvious, the world is in a bad way right now. And while a large number of decisions and events have brought ‘us,’ the collective inhabitants of the planet, to this point, it is the good ole US of A that is now leading the dysfunction and depravity. And here’s the punchline: elections aren’t going to fix what ails us. Joe Biden, the imperial ‘solution’ that might have worked thirty years ago in a world less able to fight back, has been consistently less popular than the relentlessly demonized Donald Trump, meaning that a deeper and more ominous political malady is afflicting the US at present.

Realizing that the old tricks— war hysteria, culture war distractions, and hypocritical twaddle about human rights, aren’t driving the flock back into the fold, American power is taking an authoritarian turn. In evidence is that two-plus centuries of ‘rights,’ to life and liberty, speech, and self-determination, are under attack. From the minute that speech, in the form of challenges to official power, was perceived to be a threat, it was censored, misrepresented, and / or silenced. Implied is that ‘rights’ were always considered a gift— that could be rescinded at their discretion,  by our betters in the oligarchy.

Graph: mass incarceration presents a conundrum for American Liberals. The US imprisons a much larger percentage of its population than so-called ‘authoritarian’ nations. What is this high rate of imprisonment if not authoritarian? It has a particular explanation— Richard Nixon’s war on drugs launched mass incarceration. But Nixon’s goal was to repress his political opposition, not to solve a public health emergency. What logic then led Liberals Bill Clinton and Joe Biden to double down on Nixon’s political repression with their 1994 Crime Bill? Source: worldpopulationreview.com.

This seeming American obsession with ideology rather than coalition politics emerges from the detachment from actual governance that the demos in the US faces. Over the last half-century, the political parties have consolidated their control over the electoral system. Through onerous registration procedures that require substantial and well-funded campaign infrastructure to get past, the US has a de facto duopoly electoral system in which Party leaderships, in consultation with their donors, decide who the candidates will be. This is why widely despised candidates end up as the only available choices in American elections.

Assertions from abroad, and occasionally from within the US, that Americans are politically, legally, and morally culpable for US foreign policy ignore that the electoral system is structured to assure that we, the people, not only don’t have a say, but that Federal censorship and propaganda efforts mean that most Americans are only fed lies regarding US actions in the world. The internal ‘debate’ within the US consists of CNN talking points versus MSNBC talking points, meaning that they are all State Department / CIA talking points.

Reflected in this dearth of national candor is an uninformed arrogance amongst individualists and collectivists alike with respect to world affairs. ‘We’ have strong views regarding events that this same we have little to no control over. The US proxy war in Ukraine and the genocide currently underway in Gaza have been underway is less visible forms for decades. And the bi-partisan gerontocracy in Washington is doing what it has always done. It is lying to we, the people, regarding its service to capital in the form of the MIC (military-industrial complex).

Graph: anyone who follows US foreign policy will recognize the names on this ranking of proved oil reserves by nation. The US has been trying to control Venezuela militarily since the start of the 20th century. Iran was a client state of the US until the Iranian Revolution (1979). It has been an enemy since. Iraq was substantially destroyed in George W. Bush’s misbegotten war begun in 2003. Russia is the object of the current US proxy war in Ukraine. And Libya was completely destroyed by Obama Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the early 2010s. Source: https://worldpopulationreview.com.

The reigning ethos of Liberalism, enshrined in the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights, has long represented one of the only true ‘isms,’ or political belief systems, by having so few of its expressions or corollaries found naturally in the world. For instance, ‘individuals’ rarely prosper outside of human societies. But Liberalism is hegemonic in Gramsci’s sense of  a governing ideology that is so entrenched that it is invisible to those who embody it. This latter point is what makes Liberalism so easy to use as a demagogic battering ram. Appealing to received wisdom, whether correct or not, is much less onerous than challenging it.

However, knowingly reinforcing dubious received wisdom is a recipe for social catastrophe, witness the current situation. By withholding true information while promoting false information regarding US foreign policy, the US is currently engaged in two potentially-world-ending conflicts with only moronic delusion to guide it. After killing or permanently maiming 400,000 Ukrainians from some grotesque, geostrategic, brain-fart, the political leadership in the US is supporting and funding a WWII-like genocide in Gaza. These are Liberalism’s facts in 2023.

From a Marxist perspective, Liberalism is the ethos of capitalism with individuals as its alleged heroes. In this way, challenges to Liberalism have been easy to portray as threats to individuals and ‘rights.’ Question: if rights are given, why must they be fought for? The Civil Rights movement in the US didn’t claim pre-existing ‘rights,’ it was a power struggle against repressive forces. Had these rights pre-existed (e.g. speech), the Federal government would have been the arbiter. Instead, people died and got their heads cracked when forcing both the Federal government and states to honor what were claimed to be rights.

Graph: in 2022 Democrats were the Party of the existing order. Democratic Congressional Districts tended to have more rich and fewer poor people than Republican Districts. In class terms, this broadly breaks down as the ruling class— industrialists, financiers, and corporate executives, and the PMC (Professional Managerial Class), versus the poor, the dispossessed former Middle Class, and the petite bourgeoisie that finds itself on the wrong side of neoliberal reforms. Subsequently, as if on cue, Republicans dumped their fake anti-establishment persona when their favored colonial administrators (Israel) needed help with their genocide. The question in need of an answer is why Americans believe non-stop lies given how many ‘reveals’ after the fact they have been through. Source: axios.com.

An important difference between Liberalism and Marxist analysis with respect to ‘individuals’ centers on the social conditions necessary for self-realization, and not on individualism versus collectivism per se. Ironically, American Liberals are fine with employers telling people when to wake and when to sleep, where to go and what to do with their time, what to wear, the range of acceptable discourse, and which expressions of who we ‘really’ are are acceptable, and which aren’t. Why having an employer decide your life is ‘freedom,’ while having the Federal government do so is ‘authoritarian,’ isn’t precisely clear.

In the present, serial deception has divided the US into those who believe official lies and those who don’t. While much of this difference is Party partisans mindlessly believing whatever ‘their’ party puts forward, with it being changeable with their party’s fortunes, the widespread loathing of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump suggests underlying political currents that defy partisan explanations. It seems that the people who have benefitted economically from the established order and their ‘explainers’ in academia and the press by-and-large support the established order. Those on the outside, not so much.

American politics has long had a quasi-religious character through the distinction between what people believe and what they do, between faith and acts. So and so candidate believes what you believe, so you vote for them. But the electoral system— and with it ballot access, is controlled by the duopoly parties for the benefit of corporate executives and ‘investors.’ What the candidate believes has little bearing on how they legislate. For instance, Joe Biden ‘believes’ that the minimum wage should be higher. But he isn’t willing to favor the will of the people over the economic interests of his donors to raise it.

Along these lines, a recent editorial in the New York Times entitled ‘Why I am a Liberal,’ written by Harvard Law School professor Cass Sunstein, lays out a theoretical case for Liberalism, and in-so-doing, implies that the historical case is unsupportive by default. Despite having several centuries of history to draw from, Sunstein begins his piece with ‘this is what Liberals believe,’ signaling that he will define Liberalism aspirationally. Doing so is a good trick when it works. It keeps critics fantasizing in the realm of hypotheticals, and well away from the substance of history.

“Liberals believe in six things: freedom, human rights, pluralism, security, the rule of law and democracy. They believe not only in democracy, understood to require accountability to the people, but also in deliberative democracy, an approach that combines a commitment to reason giving in the public sphere with the commitment to accountability.” Cass Sunstein, New York Times.

In fact, few in the West would take issue with this list, most particularly ‘Left’ critics of Liberalism. That critique is 1) this is vague, virtue signaling, bullshit being used to cast the established order in a favorable light, not a political program, 2) that implies that a few simple reforms would align Liberal fantasies with the facts of actually existing capitalist democracy when over two hundred years of history have failed to do so, and 3) assumes no responsibility for the acts and policies of American Liberals who claim their actions are based in Liberal theory. A current favorite is the rehabilitation of Ukrainian Nazis by people who describe themselves as anti-fascists. What’s next, an ‘approved Nazis’ list?

The Times’ piece claims that Liberals value ‘freedom.’ The question then arises as to why the ‘free’ US has the largest proportion of its people in prison amongst peer, as well as ‘authoritarian,’ nations (chart above)? At least part of the answer lies with former US President Richard Nixon’s decision to launch the ‘war on drugs’ as a pretext for repressing domestic political opposition to his policies. That ‘Liberals’ Bill Clinton and Joe Biden followed Nixon’s political repression gambit with their 1994 Crime Bill illustrates the bi-partisan, and systematic,  nature of domestic political repression.

For context, the US has about five times the proportion of its citizens in prison as ‘authoritarian’ China (chart above). It also holds multiples greater than Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, and Iran. Through so-called plea bargains— which are legalized extortion in most cases, those who can’t afford full-blown legal representation are given a choice between extortionate jury trial sentences and fractional plea bargain sentences. This has turned US prisons into warehouses for those for whom capitalism can’t create enough jobs, aka ‘the poor.’

Americans are repeatedly told that serial military mal-adventures are intended to liberate oppressed people from malevolent tyrants. If so, with 195 nations in the world today, why are the same half-dozen or so nations with the largest proved oil reserves (chart above) the main targets of US regime-change operations? A half-dozen is roughly three percent of 195 nations. And if fossil fuel reserves attract tyrants, what does this say about the most fossil-fuel obsessed nation on the planet, the US? In fact, it is American imperial interests that motivate US foreign policy.

From a different angle, at fifty-eight pages, this list of US military operations finds many of the same states and political actors being invaded and re-invaded by the US over this history, with a notable focus on those resource rich nations that the US political leadership used to loudly proclaim (see Eisenhower’s comments at opening of film) hold resources important to American oligarchs and corporations. From Teddie Roosevelt through Joe Biden, ‘kick their ass and steal their gas’ has been the operating ethos of the US military.

Chart: through the US MIC (Military Industrial Complex), the rich benefit economically from wars that are generally fought by the not-rich. This bifurcation, where one group reaps the benefits while another pays the costs, goes far in explaining the otherwise lunatic militarism of the US since WWII ended. Notably, the US never ‘wins’ these wars, whatever winning a war might look like. They feature twenty years of bombing wedding parties and Mosques before troops are withdrawn to be redeployed to the next manufactured catastrophe. Source: CFR.org.

But it isn’t the likes of the PMC who ‘kick their ass,’ a grotesque metaphor for wildly homicidal militarism. Despite Mr. Sunstein being a few years older than yours truly, there is no record of his military service during the Vietnam War. In the self-serving parlance of American political discourse, Liberals value ‘freedom,’ but leave it up to ‘the little people’ to secure it. Never mind that US foreign policy has always been imperialist slaughter for the benefit of capital, American Liberals so lack historical knowledge that they recently deemed all inconvenient history ‘whataboutism.’

“Liberals connect their opposition to censorship to their commitment to free and fair elections, which cannot exist if people are unable to speak as they wish. They cherish the right to vote.” Cass Sunstein, New York Times.

Using language intended to assuage Liberal sensibilities rather than to engage in critical analysis, Mr. Sunstein is apparently unaware that Liberal institutions in the US have engaged in full-throated censorship of political discourse and created and distributed state propaganda for most of the last century. From Operation Mockingbird through Carl Bernstein’s too-carefully-worded expose of CIA media manipulation to the revelations of the ‘Twitter Files,’ major American institutions (CIA, FBI, DNC) have not only censored inconvenient political analysis for decades, they have lied about doing so, occasionally under oath.

Picture: before Ukraine’s Azov Battalion were ‘freedom fighters’ they were Nazis. They weren’t ‘far-Right’ and they certainly weren’t ‘Liberal’ in the sense offered up by the New York Times. And then in Orwellian ‘Oceana has always been at war with Eastasia’ fashion, Adolf Hitler loving, Holocaust denying,’ Nazis’ were the best friends of American Liberals. The criticism isn’t just hypocrisy. Left critics of Liberalism actually do not support Nazis, be they Ukrainians or the American Liberals who support them. Source: wsws.org.

The methods of skirting domestic restrictions on censorship and propaganda are twofold: first, by getting so-called private institutions— corporations and NGOs, to carry out acts that would be illegal if the CIA were conducting them directly. And secondly, through institutional alliances like the Five Eyes, whereby foreign intelligence services can carry out acts that would be illegal if done domestically. With MI6 (Brits) maintaining the relationship with Ukrainian Nazis for the CIA after WWII, the CIA could deny that it ‘worked with Nazis’ while it worked with Nazis.

This ’wink and nod’ that has long facilitated CIA propaganda inside the US has also been insinuated into the cultural belief system through popular entertainment. The myth of ‘Liberal’ Hollywood, even through militaristic twaddle like Top Gun and American Sniper, has turned self-described Liberals into willing propagandists much like Leni Riefenstahlwas for the Third Reich. The myth of ‘good’ Nazis in Ukraine is a classic of the genre. Another is ‘just retribution,’ and another still is the exaggeration of US capabilities. For instance, pandemic films present intelligent and capable public health officials long after public health in the US had been abandoned.

With respect to ‘free and fair’ elections, by controlling ballot access, the duopoly parties control the choice of candidates. In the run-up to the 2016 election, the DNC not only openly cheated Bernie Sanders out of the nomination, it argued that it had no legal obligation to hold ‘free and fair’ Democratic Party primaries. This would mean one thing if the duopoly parties hadn’t spent decades creating the infrastructure needed to effectively exclude third parties from competing in US elections, and another given that they now have effective control of the electoral process.

The obvious push-back to rigged primaries is that primaries aren’t national elections. But again, duopoly party control over ballot access limits the range of political views / interests represented in ‘official’ politics to those favored by the power behind the duopoly parties. This is to write that while Donald Trump isn’t Joe Biden— they are separate and distinct people, they both represent the views and interests of the power behind the duopoly parties. Conversely, implied in the fact of duopoly party control of ballot access is that political decision making must not be left to the demos.

As the saying goes, ‘if voting changed anything, they would make it illegal.’ In fact, as the duopoly parties have learned, by constraining the choice of candidates through control of ballot access, they have maintained the illusion of democratic choice while assuring that doing so poses no danger to entrenched political and economic power. The result: voters have been fleeing the duopoly parties for three decades now. But with nowhere else to go when it’s time to vote, widely detested establishment candidates continue to be the public face of this fake democracy.

His being a law professor suggests that Mr. Sunstein should know this history. And his being a law professor suggests that Mr. Sunstein shouldn’t know this history. By analogy, here The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal interviews a representative of CIA cutout NED (National Endowment for Democracy), Leslie Aun, who appears to know absolutely nothing about the agency she is defending. What Aun does do well is put up theoretical defenses of NED in place of defending its history. The point: theoretical defenses loaded with emotive drivel about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are intended to hide their subjects, not to illuminate them.

Ironically, Liberal critiques of other purported ideologies such as Socialism and Communism tend to be based on divergences between theory and realized fact. Noam Chomsky’s Liberal critique of Lenin and the Russian Revolution amounts to the complaint that actual history failed to comport with explanations of how Socialism should work in theory. While actual Socialists and Communists have long grappled with this distance between their political aspirations and the burden of history, the tendency of Western Liberals has been to restate their own moral superiority through what they believe, rather than how they act.

Why this matters, with a superficial irony alert, is that Socialist and Communist critiques of Liberalism tend towards its facts as the ethos of capitalism, and not a rejection of the concept of self-determination as Liberals generally claim. To pull these obvious but necessary abstractions together, much of the ‘Left’ quarrel with Liberalism is that it doesn’t do what its proponents claim that it does. If it did, Mr. Sunstein would be deferring to this supporting history. But actual American history looks almost nothing like what its Liberal apologists claim.

In terms of ‘principles,’ American Liberals invested tremendous energy into politically hobbling and then ousting Donald Trump, the man who unambiguously won an election in what they (Liberals) regularly proclaim to be a free and fair electoral system. Where was the principle that Trump was the duly elected President of the United States to be found? Half the country voted for the guy. What of their ‘right’ to be represented by the person they voted for? While my take is that Trump is at least 10% as evil as Joe Biden, I’ve never voted for either of them. And I have no intention of doing so in the future. The problem is the system, not the candidates.

Question: who spends four years denying the validity of an election because they don’t like the outcome? If the problem is the electoral system, that is what needs to be addressed. But the Liberal argument was / is that the system is fine. Likewise, the CIA and FBI don’t have standing to opine on domestic politics unless a ‘process’ charge that an election wasn’t on the up-and-up has been raised. But the only process charge that was raised regarding the 2016 election, Russiagate, was a fraud invented by the losing candidate to take the focus off of her venality, incompetence, and widespread unpopularity.

Luckily for readers, Hollywood has already provided comic relief with the (Klaus) Barbie Museum. In real life, Mr. Barbie (aka the ‘Butcher of Lyon’) lived out his post-WWII years as a ‘torture consultant’ to the CIA. His contributions included murder, torture, and managing local and regional Black Ops, including the murder of Che Guevara, for the CIA. This is a fact of Liberalism that its theorists choose not to explain. Why? Because there is no gain to be made from doing so. Spouting platitudes is easier, causes less consternation, and garners pats on the back from the War Crimes R Us crowd.

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  1. Lex

    One of the problems with Sunstein’s list is the Liberal belief that it holds a monopoly on the list. That is that things like “freedom” or “democracy” can only exist in a Liberal system and that if people in Russia vote, then it is by definition not “democracy”. (Never mind that Putin’s Russia has been mostly more classically Liberal than not since 2000.)

    There is a lack of intellectual rigor in modern Liberalism evidenced by its unwillingness to debate or self-examine. It has ceased to be intellectual or philosophical and become religious. The Sunsteins of the world aren’t academic intellectuals, they’re theologians arguing about orthodoxy.

    1. mrsyk

      I will argue the “unwillingness to debate or self-examine” is a cultural product of “American exceptionalism”.

      1. Lex

        I’d like to agree, but I don’t see any self examination or debate within Liberalism in the EU either. That said, I’m open to the idea that the EU is a wholly owned subsidiary of the US as an explanation.

    2. John Wright

      It is interesting that Sunstein’s wife is Samantha Power, who has spent a career pushing for humanitarian interventions (US military responses) to events around the world.

      But in Gaza where is this Samantha Power, who advocates for US military force to protect foreign citizens under assault?

      From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samantha_Power

      “Power has also been criticized for her openness to military interventions in Libya, Syria and Yemen on perceived humanitarian grounds, but which critics say led to loss of lives and furthered extremism. Michigan State Professor Shireen Al-Adeimi has said, “These interventions, however, were anything but humanitarian: They led to a sharp increase in the loss of human lives, exacerbated a refugee crisis, enabled extremist groups, and caused an overall exacerbation of already-tenuous civil conflicts””

      For Gaza, Power is advocating limited financial aid, which is dwarfed by military aid to Israel.

      From: https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/us-official-arrives-egypt-with-aid-gaza-2023-12-05/

      “WASHINGTON, Dec 5 (Reuters) – U.S. aid chief Samantha Power arrived in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on Tuesday, where she is expected to announce more than $21 million in additional assistance for the Palestinian people, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) spokesperson told Reuters.”

      Now $21 million in aid for the 590k people of Gaza works out to $35 per capita.

    3. GramSci

      The creation myth of the current neoliberal theology is that the victors in WWII were the Notzies – the not-Nazi Modern Messiahs who saved the Jews at Auschwitz. This myth erases the fact that the Notsies largely sat on their hands, refusing for three years to invade Normandy, while the German Nazis killed 25 million Russians and 6 million Jews.

      Not to mention inconvenient scraps of history, like the fact that it was Stalin’s army that liberated Auschwitz while Allen Dulles and the Allied Notsie Army, was concluding, unbeknownst to FDR, a “separate peace” on the westen front with the Nazi high command in Switzerland. Conveniently, a month later, FDR died.

      1. Synoia

        I believe this to be untrue:

        This myth erases the fact that the Notsies largely sat on their hands, refusing for three years to invade Normandy…

        Please provide evidence.

        1. JBird4049

          The pre war American army was smaller than Denmark’s IIRC. Six divisions with effectively no armor. That the invasion of Western Europe was going to be the largest amphibious operation in history is also ignored as is the fact that the country was fighting a two front war while simultaneously building a navy, army, and air force to do so, which included over ninety divisions.

          I think that blaming the Americans and the Allies for sitting on their hands while fighting multiple land, air, and sea battles on multiple fronts is flawed thinking.

          1. MFB

            Yes, but then again, no.
            The fact that the US army was small in the early 1930s was natural; the US had no potential enemies. However, by 1938 it was obvious that the US would have to fight Germany and Japan if it was to preserve its dominant position in Europe and Asia. Hence the massive expansion of the US Navy, already the largest in the world, dating from that time. Why there was no similar expansion of the army and air force is worth asking; apparently the US game-plan was to sit out the impending wars behind a screen of battleships and aircraft carriers (which does more or less suggest a desire to sit on one’s hands).

            All that was partly changed by the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which raised the horrid possibility that the future European war would NOT be simply a conflict between Germany and Russia in which the US could wait until one side was losing before electing to get involved. Then, suddenly, the US army and air force began expanding, but unfortunately the fall of France happened before the US was ready. Luckily for the US, the Nazis then attacked Russia and soon had committed all their best armed forces into that meatgrinder.
            The British (this is wholly uncontroversial) wished to stay out of Europe altogether until the Russians had ground the Nazis down. Churchill had a demented idea of invading Greece and the Balkans, but this was mere premature senility along the lines of his plan to declare war on Russia in 1940 over Finland. The US military, sensibly, developed a plan in 1942 to invade France called Sledgehammer, but inspection of this plan shows that it could only work if the Nazi military had already collapsed. (By no accident the comparable British plan was called Roundup – that is, rounding up the already defeated Nazi military. Alas, no such defeat materialized.) In effect it was clear that the plan was to sit on hands until the Nazis were defeated.
            Effectively, the Anglo-Americans waited until the Russians had liberated their own country and entered Poland and the Balkans, then launched an invasion. Granted this was difficult, and risky, but it also wasn’t, because they had absolute air and sea supremacy and the Nazi forces were thus unable to manoeuvre and were generally of low quality because all the best forces were sitting in eastern Poland waiting to be destroyed in the Soviet offensive which began two weeks later (and which the Anglo-Americans knew was coming, of course). Effectively, the campaign was a long Nazi rout in which the Anglo-Americans were only restrained by timidity and fuel shortages, at least until they approached the borders of the Reich and the Nazi military started to fight seriously, at which point the Anglo-American offensive stalled until the Nazis ran out of petrol for their tanks and could be easily defeated in detail.

            So the commentator has a point, in my view. The West wasn’t really trying against the Nazis, any more than they were really trying against the Japanese (whose military was largely engaged in China and whose navy had been obliterated by late 1944, making further military operations by Japan impossible except as suicide missions).

        2. GramSci

          Three specific examples of Notsie indifference come quickly to hand:

          1. https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Louis_(Schiff,_1929)

          2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bait_and_bleed

          The latter quotes Truman in 1941:

          “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible”

          3. FDR’s correspondence with Stalin (Butler 2008) specifically references first plans to open a western front “soon” made via Foreign Secretary Molotov in June of 1942, then repeatedly promised and repeatedly postponed. Less than excusable in the context of 1 and 2 and subsequent Notsie virtue signaling.

    4. Altandmain

      Cass Sunstein, I suspect, knows that he is trying to defend the indefensible. The editorial he wrote strikes me as the insecure and increasingly desperate attempt to defend a failing ideology.

      The falling living standards, the high rates of imprisonment, use of excuses to wage wars to steal other countries’ natural resources, etc, are all signs of a nation in deep decline and with it, its dominant ideology.

      Even at where the ideology purports to be strong, economic growth, the Liberals can’t match growth rates of nations like China. Liberals may not like the CPC, but they have been so successful that the results cannot be denied or dismissed.

      I’m of the opinion that in regards to your comment about the lack of intellectual rigor of liberals to examine their own flaws – they know that their society has come up short. They are deliberately lying. A society that has done well doesn’t need to brag. The results speak for themselves.

      Urie is right. Liberalism is full of double standards and can’t deliver prosperity.

      1. Rubicon

        We aren’t sure what a “Zen Economist” is, but we wholeheartedly enjoyed reading Robert Erie’s article.

        It’s refreshing to come across the person “who tells it like it is,” especially in referencing all the problems going on in the US.

        A full spectrum writer who’s brave enough to tackle the realities of the highly corrupt political class, the monstrous amount of prison inmates, to the phony PR about liberal thinking,all the way to defining how the very powerful wealthy few are helping to destroy this country.

        Why don’t we have Robert Erie have a lengthy discussion with Dr. Michael Hudson about all the factors in the US being being financially, culturally destroyed. It could be a real “Barn Stormer.” :)

  2. QABubba

    Excellent analysis. Especially about the chasm between ideology and history. And it is getting wider every day for the US.

  3. The Rev Kev

    I use to wonder years ago about the intense dislike that conservatives in America had for liberals and sometimes it really got demented. But over the years I am beginning to see their point. It was liberals that gave an Academy Award to al Al Qaeda PR unit. It was liberals that fully supported mild head-choppers in Syria so that the people there could have their freedom. But to see them warmly greeting out-and-out Nazis not only on Capital Hill but in universities and even Disneyland was just too much like a twilight zone episode. My entire generation grew up on documentaries talking about who the Nazis were and what they did so that it would never be forgotten. Those Ukrainian Nazis made no bones about who they were and yet they were still lauded as heroes and swooned at. And just to top it off, we are watching a genocide and ethnic cleansing in real time but this same class is trying to thought police any criticism of the Israelis. They say that Israel has a right to defend themselves but no word if the Palestinians have a similar right. So it is these people that will help make America more authoritarian because freedom and do not want to change the present system.

    1. Feral Finster

      Well put. Not to mention that it’s Team D, the political manifestation of the self-proclaimed enlightened, educated and open-minded that is pushing for more censorship and overt repression of dissent, not the benighted hillbillies and provincial minigarchs of Team R.

      1. JBird4049

        Team R is closely allied with Team D with its support of the Monied Class and is just as enthusiastic with the corruption, repression and lying, but for now, the Team D with its intelligentsia is somewhat in control and its hypocrisy more rank.

        It could easily have been, and it is likely to be so in the future, the other way around.

        1. Richard

          Team R has the little monied guys, your local auto dealer and lawn-care guys for example.

          Team D has the big monied guys, with exceptions, and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th generation trustafarians.

          It’s all in that chart lifted from Axios.

            1. steppenwolf fetchit

              Is the Koch family mere gentry, then? Is this meant to gentry-wash the billionaires for Team R?

          1. Michael Fiorillo

            Yes, but there’s a separation by region and industry, as well: Energy, Mining and Ag, located in the Flyover, skew Republican: Finance (with notable exceptions), Tech, Communications and Academia, generally on or near the coasts, skew Blue.

    2. Michael Hudson

      Nazism hasn’t been forgotten. It’s remembered — and approved, with heavy financing. (Goes with the nice obits for Kissinger.)

    3. Piotr Berman

      Notwithstanding the vices of liberals, “the intense dislike that conservatives in America had” was and is quite demented. Recall how Trump, always keen to demand found in the market, rose in politics before entering Republican primaries by harping on “phony birth certificate of Barak Hussein Obama”, in short, he knew what a demented sector of the public would adore. That was a novelty, but equating “socialized medicine” with Communism and thus BAD is old. Abolishing compulsory school prayer led to moral degeneracy. If anything, liberal tropes were less obviously demented.

      My impression was that the intense, visceral hatred of Trump stemmed from two things: his creativity in personal insults, and, even worse, the traction they got. And remember his phony issue of “phony birth certificate”. Thus irresistible temptation to remove all stops in attacks on him, including semblance of truth, radical unhinged claims have proven effective, so they copied the approach, abandoning prior liberal style.

      This is how Gresham law, “bad money drives out good”, works in politics.

      1. Lysias

        I used to be in favor of socialized medicine, but then I saw how government control of the medical system enabled all the medical abuses during covid.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This is nonsensical and Making Shit Up. The US has a largely private system. On a quick pass, I can’t find a mandate through the HHS for anything through the health care system except requiring hospital and nursing home employees to be vaccinated. Airlines, not the FAA, required pilots and employees to be vaccinated. The Biden Administration did attempt to mandate vaccines at businesses with over 100 employees, but that was struck down.

  4. Lexx

    ‘This ’wink and nod’ that has long facilitated CIA propaganda inside the US has also been insinuated into the cultural belief system through popular entertainment.’

    Thank you! I thought it was just me, watching the patterns from network to network. The faces and timelines change but it’s really the same stories over and over again like they want to be sure to reach everyone wherever they may do their viewing… and that makes Hollywood (and all imitators) a propaganda machine we import into our homes at great expense. Or if we need a night out and like the overpriced snacks, at a movie theater.

    Matt Damon was on camera munching on chicken wings, explaining to the host why the films of the past (including some of his own) couldn’t be made today because investors are so risk adverse, but I think that’s a half truth. Big budget productions pay for A-list actors, (the most expensive storytellers/sales people) competent writers, and post-production special effects, that give an unoriginal story a new veneer. It’s the veneer we’re buying. The same elements reshuffled and tweaked to be just appealing enough for us to watch it through to the credits. Once you’ve figured that out, you start looking at what all these stories have in common. What are they trying to say over and over again, about who ‘we’ are and who ‘they’ are and the perceived divide in between? Even when the U.S. comes off stinky in the picture, it’s usually due to just a few ‘bad actors’ in an otherwise fair and just system… and that just ain’t so.

    It’s interesting to me that what I find most worthy of my time in a film or series these days are the supporting actors. They’re the most individualized and seem to having all the fun. A liberal preference, perhaps?

    1. Polar Socialist

      I noticed recently Netflix was flooding me with suggestion of movies where this or that secret organization defends the World Peace(tm) by spectacular extrajudicial killings. All made in USA or UK.

      I’m mostly watching Asian or European movies/series with much more nuanced approach to good and bad guys – sometimes “baddies” can be good people running out of options! – so apparently the AI thinks my world view needs some adjustment.

      1. britzklieg

        Maybe one of our Aussie commenters can report on any ramifications to the ABC documentary on Netflix “Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire” which gives horrifying and frankly depressing truths about a crime which killed 6 children who were out for a night of fun at Luna Park in Sydney. It’s clear that this was murder sanctioned at the highest levels of government, protected by a scandalously corrupt police investigation in order to benefit one Abe Saffron, gangster extraordinaire. Looking at the pictures of those kids (and one adult) while listening to the endless grief suffered by their families is both heartbreaking and infuriating. Not for the faint of heart so be prepared to be devastated by how things really work in the hallowed halls of “democratic” leadership.

        1. synoia

          My experience with Aussie males is very negative, as they appeared to me to be bullies.

          The Aussie women were delightful, and the ones in London often looking for an English husband to tale home. Possible it was because the English males were attributed to be m0re polite.

          This was in the 1960s.

          In the 70s in ZA, the Aussies I met socially mostly followed this template.

      2. Mikel

        It’s like a cottage industry of its own, right?
        The hero rogue spook.
        Often they try to clean it up and manufacture sympathy for the character by making it a member of of their family that they are protecting or avenging.
        It’s actually on the rare side that the guns are blazing because of a sense of social justice or larger concern for the world.

    2. Feral Finster

      Not to mention that a studio that wants access to military assets for their films knows what storylines will find favor with the Pentagon and which will not.

      Newspapers know what sorts of promotion will win them lucrative military recruiting ad contracts, and which will turn those ad dollars away.

      And so on and so forth. Operating Mockingbird never ended.

      1. Lexx

        Good point. I don’t think about how production costs shape stories except when those production values are missing, and then my eyes go wandering off the actors and the story trying to figure out where the money really went… clearly it wasn’t the set or to the writers, so who got paid and why?

        1. Mikel

          Reminds me of an article that appeared in the LA Times during the WGA strike:

          From the article:
          “…As novelist-turned-screenwriter P.G. Wodehouse groused in a letter to a friend in 1930, “So far, I have had eight collaborators. The system is that A. gets the original idea, B. comes in to work with him on it, C. makes a scenario, D. does preliminary dialogue, and then they send for me to insert Class and what-not. Then E. and F., scenario writers, alter the plot and off we go again.”

          I will add: All of this with “notes” from the studio and in many cases other interested institutional parties.

          And James Baldwin has some informative essays about his Hollywood experiences.

  5. Bryan Steele

    Sunstein begins his piece with ‘this is what Liberals believe,’ signaling that he will define Liberalism aspirationally. Doing so is a good trick when it works. It keeps critics fantasizing in the realm of hypotheticals, and well away from the substance of history.

    I was ready to pouce on Sunstein’s article as much as the next guy, if for no other reason than where he works and the subject material he was about to discuss. However, I ended up agreeing with much of what he said for the simple reason that I saw his essay as an attempt to move away from ideology and towards process.

    I think what some NC readers are missing is the possibility of changing the way we teach our students to think as a path towards individual and general social enlightenment. Specifically, why is there no direct instruction that answers the question: What do we know and how do we know it? (I have a masters in education theory, five years of credential teaching experience, the author of two books on education and served as an Education Consultant to the California Legislature) This is my life’s work and the subject of my second book, The New English Class, currently undergoing its first revision: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0970507038

    We don’t teach a general applied epistemology in high school because to do so would be like Toto pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz.

    I’m not attempting to deny the history of human nature but arguing that it’s possible to teach students the process of answering the question Who am I? as the first step in understanding the self, language and the context of our place as individuals and the functioning of society. Furthermore, understanding languages a human system teaches students everything they knew need to know in order to design, build, and manage new successful human systems.

    In short, repeating our mistakes is not necessarily inevitable. As such, I don’t see Sunstein’s ideas as hypothetical but a starting point for meaningful progress, even if Sunstein himself doesn’t understand this.

  6. Chris Cosmos

    Very good article that gives us a “mood” which is changing attitudes around the country. Most people don’t want change and don’t have much interest in “truth” but love fantasy. Yet, most people I know are deeply skeptical of the official Narrative–I think the notions around this article will increase as the career of the US Empire wobbles and breaks up.

  7. Michael Fiorillo

    Sunstein also said that Liberals love humor, which is a hot one, when you look at TDS-addled late night comics like Kimmel, who made “hilarious ” jokes about Deplorables dying of Covid, or the embarrassing devolution of Steven Colbert.

    Sunstein’s piece will be a useful time capsule and auto-taxidermy of the contemporary Liberal class.

    1. Feral Finster

      The irony is that these days, the pranksters, the subversives, the Roasters Of Sacred Cows and Tellers of Forbidden Truths are found on the alt-right and to a lesser extent, the Dirtbag Left.

      Meanwhile, liberals have morphed into finger-wagging moralists so priggish and humorless that they make The Church Lady look like Lenny Bruce by comparison.

      This is not because of any inherent puckishness on the Right, or any inherent censoriousness on the Left, but is an outcome of their respective relationship with power. In other words, they *are* the Establishment now and as such must defend Establishment pieties.

  8. TomDority

    I think this is a great article — whatever anybody thinks about my opinions – it is a nail worth hammering.
    I remember a time that campaign finance reform was given some thought by our two parties – even at a time when the corporatization – or the Corpos almost had completed the take over -( as Sinclair Lewis’s- It Can’t Happen Here – Copyright 1935 describes it).
    So at any party staged ‘debate’ not a word is mentioned about the huge money it takes to run for office or how this distorts and corrupts the very foundations. Even when every campaign is explaining to me why they have to beg so much money they do not even give a hint that anything is wrong with this begging or the huge costs – like it’s normal or part of a well functioning democracy instead of a well funded racket.
    Pay to Play — what game is it?

  9. Hank Linderman

    As a D candidate in KY-02, I speak with everyone I can. Left, right, young old, black, white, all genders, all occupations, rich, poor – so I can pick their brains. I usually say something like this is a strange time… and the response is usually you aren’t kidding! I use the word “Sh!t$how™” to describe the current situation and it is accepted universally.

    “What we’re up against is an extractive economy, run by a tiny minority of the wealthiest people, and from that the impoverishment, pollution and poisoning of the natural world, the disintegration of all human communities, and the ill health of the individuals and families.” Wendell Berry, “The Need To Be Whole”

    This is the most concise description of the “Sh!t$how™” I have found.

    The only good news I see on the horizon is the resurgence of the UAW. And possibly the need for more workers as re-industrialization gains speed, which should (I know…) lead to higher wages.

    Tom Frank says Rs get away with their b s because Ds won’t offer a credible alternative.


      1. Hank Linderman

        Still running…

        Main purpose is to help refocus the D party on working people and returning to rural Ky. And organizing out in the counties.


        1. Chris Cosmos

          I don’t think it is possible for either Party to do anything other than continuing the same system. At this point in our political system all it can do is crash. We should try and understand that it’s not anyone’s fault–the political system is “systemically” corrupt along with, in particular, the the health “care” system, the almost ridiculously corrupt military and foreign policy system, increasingly the education system (it’s not that we’re falling to educate young people it’s part of the system to poorly educate young people). Almost every governmental system federal, state, and local is deeply corrupt. Fortunately, I believe a substantial number of people agree with me.

          The problem we have is that most of us have no genuine moral point of view because every part of our society is deeply attracted to materialism, hedonism, and a profoundly anti-spiritual culture (even much that passes for religion and spirituality. I believe our situation is so bad that some kind of spirituality will emerge and has, to some degree, begun to emerge that values connection rather than hatred or distrust in the “other.”“

    1. cousinAdam

      The D’s and R’s are not a “uniparty” at the local (or District) level. May success attend your efforts!

  10. Oh

    And Libya was completely destroyed by Obama Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the early 2010s.

    I would correct the ference as follows:

    And Libya was completely destroyed by Obama AND Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the early 2010s.

    I don’t know why that shyster Obama gets a free pass. Hillary didn’t destroy Libya on her own. She was aided and abetted by the murderer-in-chief Obama.

    I was viewing something on YT yesterday (I know!) and it skipped to the next video and what do you know? The shyster Obama walked into a discussion forum (in shirtsleeves no less) with some of his admiring supporters and he started w/ “Whatup? Whatup”. The SOB has a way of keeping up with the latest lingo and fashion to scam the nest group. What a lowlife!

    1. Rob Urie

      The reason I framed it as I did is that Ms. Clinton was caught stating about Libya that she was running for president and she ‘needed a war on her resume.’

      This stuck me as so grotesque that she deserves to be the face of the US assault against Libya.

      I would provide a link, but the quote was disappeared within a few days of its appearance. Team D is very good at cleaning its true opinions from the internet in a timely fashion.

      1. John Wright

        The interview in which HRC stated about Khadaffi “We came, we saw, he died” captures some of this war mongering attitude.


        One can imagine the USA outrage if a foreign leader made the same statement about a US leader’s death caused by THEIR military action.

        And HRC even laughs about it.

      2. Reply

        Khaddafi was helping his people through water and other programs.
        He was helping Europe as a buffer against migration, with their assent.
        He was helping the US be renouncing terrorism after Lockerbie.

        There are many other factors, pro and con.

        One critical error Khaddafi made was to buck the world financial order. His gold-backed currency scheme drew all the wrong attention. As if Hillary, Obama and crew needed a pretext for war, that one would do in private to summon support while sufficient public reasons were channeled through the usual outlets. Benghazi was their collateral damage. The arrogance, solipsism and psychopathy of the whole Arab Spring policy will get a hearing eventually by historians but not soon enough to comfort any current residents.

  11. Feral Finster

    “This seeming American obsession with ideology rather than coalition politics emerges from the detachment from actual governance that the demos in the US faces.”

    I dunno, the two legacy parties usually seem pretty united when it comes to things like bailing the billionaires out at the casino, or putting another war of aggression on the national credit card.

    Far as I can tell, the biggest difference between Team R and Team D is the brand of identity politics that they offer.

  12. ciroc

    The electoral system is not the solution to the corruption of democracy, it is the cause of it. 99% of the jobs in our society are unelected, yet no one calls this undemocratic. Who is afraid that an unelected military commander will stage a coup? Conversely, if positions were chosen by vote rather than ability, elected doctors would kill patients and elected pilots would crash planes. Yes, and we see elected politicians ruining countries.

  13. Oh

    Thanks, Robert for this excellent blogpost. And thanks, Yves for including it. I hope more people in the mainstream will read it.

  14. Kouros

    Mr. Sunstein’s normative Liberalism is like Heaven / Paradise for Christian and Muslims.

    There is no reflection on the existing situation and how the mismatch between reality and the normative discourse, in all its rich details is what should be discussed. Because then the truth will out. The means and ways put together by Liberalsims are in fact blocking heaven on earth.

    Myself, I side with Simone Weil who is against political parties.

    Life, with the invention of Sex, has created a robust method of survival in an ever changing universe. The gamets, before being created, are a result of a randomization process of their body’s parental genetic material.

    This is why I think that only sortition can protect us on the long run of the ills of oligarchy and totalitarianism and secret services.

  15. All part of the fall of empire. Read Gibbon,s voluminous criticism of the Roman enpire.

    All part of the fall of empire. Read Gibbons voluminous criticism of the Roman empire.

    It was falling for 2000 years, which to my view it was no so much a fall, as an embellishment of what we suffer today – Actions driven only for the benefit of rich.

    I find it Curious that in my education, which included much History, that the behaviors of the Roman Empire in Constantinople was skated over without discussion.

  16. JonnyJames

    Important points raised here, Urie could write a whole book just on this topic. Even a former US President said after the Citizens United decision: “the US is an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery”. (Jimmy Carter)


    Speaking of Nazis, a quote from one of the most brilliant political analysts the US has ever produced sums it up: George Carlin. “the Germans lost WWII, but the Nazis won”

    He ridiculed and took the piss out of US political culture. He knew many years ago, that the US was a brutal empire ruled by an oligarchy, not a democracy. He explained this with unambiguous language that everyone understands.

    So, after reading Hudson, Chomsky, Wolin, Parenti, Hedges, Urie…, Carlin boils it down to four-letter words of Old Norse origin, and you don’t have to be a scholar to figure it out:
    “they don’t give a f@#* about you, at all”.

    Sadly, some still believe in the fairy-tales, they can just “vote” for DT or JB and somehow things will get better.

    I view DT/JB as part of the Freak Show that passes for elections. Rome had Commodus and Elagabulus, we have these freaks. Same shit, different millennium.

    1. Kouros

      No, it is waaaay different.

      Commodus or Elagabalus where ultimately “tyrants” that would bloody from time to time the august body of the elites. The plebs were just the plebs, the scenary.

      The US though has really put oligarchy on a pedestal, and media&intelligentsia, the law, the forces of “order”, and the taxman are all protecting the existing plutocratic system with all their might. And anyone who would dare to challenge this system will face the fate of Gazans.

      We have entered for quite some time in a period similar to the times of Draco in Athens. I am afraid that there won’t be a Solon for the US anytime soon.

      1. JonnyJames

        I agree in that regard, but I was only crudely highlighting and comparing the freak-show nature of JB and DT and the examples of Roman emperors.

        We could argue that during the later empire, the emperors were merely puppets, under the thumb of the Praetorian guard. One could crudely view the Pres. as a puppet emperor as well. (Especially Biden, who has limited and declining cognitive ability)

  17. David in Friday Harbor

    I read Sunstein’s appalling piece the other day. I recall one wag saying that it reminded them of Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty. Probably the worst passage is #22. about a “liberal” being able to believe that Ronald Reagan was a “great president” and FDR an “abomination.” Are you kidding me?

    But reading Sunstein is most chilling because he is the future of the Democrats. When the gerontocracy dies-off, they will be replaced by think-tank apparatchiks like Sunstein and his wife Samantha Power, whose unelected membership on the National Security Council led to the Orwellian “humanitarian” interventions that have spread unending misery in Libya and Syria.

    But just like that pants-suit carpetbagger who had never held elected office used the party apparatus to get herself elected to the U.S. Senate in New York, these people will start showing up on ballots — and likely unopposed as the Wasserman-Schultz I-don’t-got-to-hold-no-stinkin-primary Democrats just pushed through in Florida (it’s a great big club, and you ain’t in it). This is Inverted Totalitarianism.

    In another example of neoliberal narrative-control, last night I played around with ChatGPT about the Euromaidan coup. The AI went after me for calling it a “coup,” so I asked the AI to define a “coup.” Without citing authority, the AI tried to correct me that Euromaidan was “a popular uprising against a corrupt and authoritarian regime.” I then asked if post-1991 “Ukraine” has ever been governed by a regime that cannot be characterized as “corrupt and authoritarian?” The AI gave me the Spinning Rainbow of Death for a while and then kicked me out of the session. I can’t make this pschitt up — it’s Through the Looking Glass everywhere I go…

  18. dirke

    The one question no one is asking is “Do we have honest elections in the United States?”
    I did an in depth analysis of the process in my county. Things like security, training, vetting of election
    personnel and qualifications. Please note this had nothing to do with politics.
    It’s a little lengthy. If any one is interested I’ll post what I found out.

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